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Pasco's SunWest park project stymied over budget

DADE CITY — Pasco County's proposed SunWest Park in Aripeka hit another snag this week when bids to build the park came in over-budget for the second time.

Pasco commissioners learned about the bids in a meeting Wednesday and directed the county staff to negotiate a better deal with the contractors, but there was disagreement about what that might entail.

Commission Chairman Jack Mariano, a vocal supporter of the project, suggested that in addition to a beach, volleyball courts and other amenities, that the staff look to include a boardwalk, two splash pads for young children and paved parking on the property's north side.

Paved parking was already expected on the south side.

"This is a chance to put us at the forefront, to have the greatest water park," Mariano said.

Other commissioners balked, however, noting the project's $3.4 million price tag.

The lowest bid — by Cleveland Construction Inc. — came in at $3.9 million, and Mariano's proposal for the additional features would push that cost up another $750,000.

"You want staff to go in and negotiate them down by more than a million dollars?" Commissioner Henry Wilson asked.

Mariano responded that it couldn't hurt to try. The staff is expected to report back to commissioners in two weeks.

This was the second time commissioners tossed out contractors' bids for coming in too high. In January, the bids came in $2 million over-budget.

The park was expected to open this summer. In addition to the lakefront beach and volleyball courts, plans call for a snack bar, walking trails, 500 parking spaces and a wakeboard device to pull riders through the water.

In other business, commissioners on Wednesday approved spending $3 million to settle a dispute between residents and a developer, but with a caveat: that residents pay back the money over time.

At issue is the Oaks at Riverside project, a proposed apartment complex on Amazon Drive off Little Road in New Port Richey. Residents near the project, including at Riverside Village and Heritage Oaks, have fought it for years, worrying it will cause noise and flooding.

Enter Pasco County, which two weeks ago proposed a novel solution: That it purchase the 41-acre Oaks property from developer Chris Scherer.

Scherer, who bought it in 2007 for $1.5 million, was open to the idea — provided the deal didn't drag out for months.

After settling on a framework two weeks ago, commissioners formally approved the deal Wednesday.

Approved without discussion, the agreement sets up a special service district pending the outcome of a June 24 public hearing.

Residents within the district will be asked to repay the $3 million over 15 years at a 0.05 percent interest rate — or $125 a year for each household within a half mile of the property.

If residents back the deal and the county opts to move forward with it, the agreement with Scherer will close July 23.

The property would then be used for passive recreation, although eventually it might be used as part of a flood-control system if the county can secure state funding.

Rich Shopes can be reached at or (727) 869-6236.